Runner-up List Studded with Foreign Gems

THE most impressive runners-up to this year's top 10 were crafted by directors far from the Hollywood studios. La Vie de Boheme, by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, turns the novel that inspired ``La Boheme'' on the operatic stage - with its overripe tale of a penniless painter wooing a fragile lover - into a triumph of absurdist wit and genuine pathos. Strictly Ballroom, by Australian filmmaker Baz Lurhmann, is about a young and slightly odd couple who are determined to win a dancing contest. It mixes art and kitsch with such unstoppable energy that you hardly notice how deliberately slight and silly the story is.

Guy Maddin, another Australian maverick, serves up a feast of deadpan hilarity in Careful, the deliriously hokey tale of an aspiring butler consumed by ill-starred affections. Also from Down Under is The Piano, by Jane Campion, a New Zealand-born director of growing maturity and imagination. It shared the top prize at last year's Cannes filmfest with Farewell My Concubine by Chen Kaige, a stunningly filmed look at decades of Chinese history as seen by two opera stars with a complex relationship.

The best documentary of 1993 was The War Room by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, a lively look at Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. Aside from Belgium's explosive ``Man Bites Dog,'' with its violent critique of media violence, the most boldly experimental film to reach theatrical screens was Orlando by Sally Potter, based on Virginia Woolf's silly but insinuating novel about a protagonist who lives through several centuries and changes gender along the way.

Harold Ramis's ingenious Groundhog Day has avant-garde tendencies of its own, and pulls off its time-warping tricks with hilarious aplomb.

Finally, the delicate Shadowlands proves once again that literacy and thoughtfulness have an enduring place in popular filmmaking, and that even a religious intellectual like C.S. Lewis can lure audiences if his story is told with taste and sincerity. Lewis prefaced his fine book, ``The Screwtape Letters & Screwtape Proposes a Toast,'' by noting that ``every ideal of style dictates not only how we should say things but what sort of things we may say.'' In that spirit, he would surely have approved of the civilized style that filmmaker Richard Attenborough musters here.

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